Custom Soil Production: Q&A with Rexius Senior VP Dan Sutton
There are two things that any true grower knows deep within his or her soul: First, the word “dirt” is basically sacrilege, and second, there’s a lot more to soil than pulverized rocks and compost. At Rexius, we take these two truths to heart, which is why we use our 75 years of experience in horticulture to painstakingly produce soil mixes that meet our sky-high standards for growing all sorts of beautiful plants in all kinds of places. Soil production may sound simple enough, but what we do, really, is strategically concoct soil recipes and mix up custom blends for our discerning customers. We enlisted Dan Sutton, our senior vice president, to help explain exactly what that means and why it matters.
Q: So your team at Rexius is responsible for producing soil. What exactly does that mean?
Dan Sutton: Most soil used in the growing industry is not actually the “native soil” that one might assume was used. The growing mix (soil) that’s used in greenhouse and nursery container operations is actually a manufactured soil media that requires a wide variety of organic and mineral ingredients, along with amendments, to perform in a somewhat “unnatural” environment (containers). Growers need mixes that will provide stability for their plants during growth cycles, nutrients, pH balance, aeration, and good drainage — but yet retain enough moisture to sustain plants’ water needs. All of this requires that the soil be produced to the specification of the particular plants being grown, with just the right balance of materials. Rexius has the capacity, as a soil producer, to manufacture any number of variations to satisfy a customer’s specific needs.
Q: Can you briefly describe the process, step-by-step?
DS: Rexius manufactures certain ingredients, such as compost and aged bark fines, and gathers a wide range of other materials like peat moss, coconut coir fiber, perlite, pumice, and organic fertilizers. We then mechanically blend these materials until the mix is homogenous and store the finished product in a separate storage bin until it’s delivered or packaged in bags or totes. That sounds simple, but the time and equipment needed to accomplish this task are quite substantial, and Rexius has the capacity to produce large quantities of soil in very short periods of time to keep up with the demands of our large commercial clients.
Q: Can you give us a few examples of some of your different soil mixes and the plants that grow best in them?
DS: Rexius manufactures mixes for all types of growing. Our landscape mixes, like Tree-n-Shrub, are blended with mineral-based ingredients, such as sand and loam, along with compost and nutrients that benefit trees and shrubs outdoors. We make similar mixes with slight changes, like Flower-n-Garden, for growing vegetables in raised garden beds. For growing in containers, we change the ingredient base to accommodate more drainage and aeration. Our Patio Potting Soil and the higher-end Opus Grows line are designed for growing plants like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, basil, and a whole host of other flowers and herbs that can be grown on the patio or in planter boxes. Your imagination is your only limit!
Q: Can you describe a situation in which a grower might need а soil mix that’s customized beyond the readily available mixes at Rexius?
DS: Yes, in addition to our ready-made mixes, we actually produce a large volume of custom blends for growers. Our mixes perform very well in most every situation, as we have combined our many years of experience to create the proper blends that we believe meet most needs, but we live in a world where there are as many opinions as there are people. We want to be flexible enough to make whichever mixes our customers desire, to the exact recipes that they believe work best for them. This custom blending service that we offer has become a huge part of what we do for the grower market. Since we are able to source about every known ingredient used in horticulture, we have the ability to customize most any type of mix.
Q: You have a standard list of ingredients from which customers may choose. Do you advise growers on the types of mixes that would work best with their crops and growing conditions?
DS: Yes, that is what comes with over 75 years of experience in the horticulture industry. We also work with a variety of experts in several fields, and the combined knowledge of our team gives us great insight for our customers to rely on.
Q: How long does it take to create custom-blended soil, from taking the order to delivery?
DS: We can usually pull together all of the items needed for a custom-blended soil mix within a few days, then deliver. The blending portion of the process only takes a few hours, but because of the seasonality of our business, orders taken in the spring take a few extra days for scheduling and delivery.
Q: What is the minimum quantity for an order of custom-blended soil?
DS: Our minimum volume for customized soil blending is 15 cubic yards.
Q: What are some of the most unusual custom blends that you have produced in the past?
DS: That’s a loaded question! We have done so many different custom blends, from mixes for orchid growers in other countries to mixes for rooftop planters on top of commercial buildings in New York City. We have a local specialty grower who has requested blends with almost 30 different ingredients. You just never know what will come up in this industry, but we are ready and capable of getting the job done. We love the challenge!
Q: Quality control is important when it comes to soils mixes. What are some of the practices you follow to ensure top quality blends to growers?
DS: Rexius produces its own compost material and we follow stringent guidelines set by the US Composting Council, which assure that our material is mature, ready to use, and in Grade A condition. We have also obtained certification for organic compost production from the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Organic Program, which means that it meets all USDA organic standards. Our other soil ingredients are sourced from suppliers with Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) Listed® seals and top-notch reputations in the industry. Our processes have been carefully established and we use the highest quality equipment with the latest technology. Finally, regular testing is done to ensure that the material is made at performance level.